By Erica Thomas, managing editor
TRUSSVILLE — The president of the Cahaba Homestead Heritage Foundation attended a Trussville City Council workshop on Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Amy Peterson O’Brien said she wanted to address concerns about property value, property rights and litigation.
O’Brien said the non-profit foundation was founded with a sense of urgency after years of concerns in the area. She said the purpose of the foundation is to be an educational resource. She spoke to the council about the importance of preserving the area and using it for education and to share with others.
The mission of the Cahaba Homestead Heritage Foundation is “To support through education, outreach and civic involvement such things that promote, perpetuate and enhance the value of this community as a historic district designated on the National Register of Historic Places.”
O’Brien, who lives in the Cahaba Project, said the historic district’s character needs to be protected and enhanced.
“Cities are looking at how to stay relevant, how to stay competitive, how to remain unique,” she said.
She pointed out the importance of historical districts nationwide. In fact, she said all cities ranked as the most livable have them. When it comes to property values, O’Brien said it is important to keep the development within its scale. For example, people coming into Trussville and buying homes in the area, want to know their purchase and surrounding properties will be protected.
The historic area is believed to be the largest intact Works Project Administration development in the United States which was built by the FDR administration in the 1930’s. The WPA was created to build the country’s infrastructure and to employ Americans without jobs during the Great Depression.
“It was built by the greatest generation,” O’Brien said.
She continued saying she wants the city to continue the traditions created by the Cahaba Project by thinking of future generations.
O’Brien said materials used to build the homes were stronger and the quality of the work was greater and the homes are sturdy.
“That’s why many of these houses have been described as tanks,” she said. “They are just built so solidly.”
Preservation and protection efforts have been underway in Trussville for many years. O’Brien said the foundation is just another way for community members to keep the charm of the district intact.
O’Brien added that the unique development, that is the Cahaba Project is one that is not protected.
She suggested a public garden and an annual event to bring people into the Cahaba Project area for walking tours to experience its many amenities. Also, an arts festival could be an option, she said.
“There’s potential for people to come and see,” O’Brien said.
The foundation has been consulting with another city’s historical society. She said that society acts as “a self-proclaimed fundraising machine” and suggested a similar action could be taken in Trussville.
O’Brien also told the council it is the city’s right to regulate changes to homes and applying standards. She said demolition is the greatest threat to the Cahaba Project’s designation as a place listed on the National Register. She said although prohibiting demolitions completely is not realistic, she does hope the city can put restrictions on this type of action.
The city has put into place a process in which homeowners present ideas about changes to the Design Review Committee. O’Brien said she would also like to see a local designation of the Cahaba Project.